Shaheen Writes to FAA Urging Participation of Emergency Responders in Drone Task Force

Letter Follows Introduction of Legislation to Deter Recreational Drones from Interfering with Disaster Relief

October 26, 2015

(Washington, DC) – This morning, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) wrote to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta requesting that the agency’s new taskforce on drone registration include the input of emergency responders. So far this year, the U.S. Forest Service has tallied at least 13 wildfires in which drones interfered with firefighting aircraft. This past summer, there were several reports in which firefighting aircraft had to abandon combatting forest fires for fear of colliding with drones flying in their operating area. Last week, the agency announced the new taskforce to establish a registration process for recreational drones in order to encourage responsible use and accountability, but failed to include emergency responders on the task force

Senator Shaheen’s letter reads in part:

“…We have seen a recent spike in reports of drone interference in disaster response efforts, particularly in firefighting efforts. These rogue drone operations are a serious threat to emergency responders and rescue attempts. Including the perspective of the public employees who have experienced these dangerous encounters, will ensure that the task force can consider and help deal with these risks.”

This letter follows Shaheen’s recent introduction of a bill to deter recreational drone users from interfering with fire-fighting and other disaster relief efforts. Shaheen’s legislation would specifically criminalize recreational drone use that knowingly interferes with disaster relief efforts. By criminalizing drone use under these narrow circumstances, the bill provides law enforcement officials with the authority to protect aircraft engaged in disaster relief without discouraging the safe and responsible use of drones.

Shaheen is the lead Democrat of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over disaster relief.

The full text of Senator Shaheen’s letter is available below:

October 26, 2015

Mr. Michael Huerta

Administrator

Federal Aviation Administration

U.S. Department of Transportation

1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE

Washington, DC 20590

Dear Administrator Huerta:

I am writing to commend the FAA on its efforts to ensure the safe integration of drones into our nation’s aviation system and to ensure that recreational operators of these unmanned aircrafts are properly educated and fully informed.

Last week, the agency announced its plans to create a task force charged with developing recommendations for the registration of recreational drones. I applaud the agency’s efforts to begin addressing this growing safety concern and am pleased that the task force will include widespread participation from government and industry alike. As the task force is assembled, I encourage you to also ensure robust participation from the emergency responder community, a group that has an important stake in the task force’s objectives.

As you are aware, we have seen a recent spike in reports of drone interference in disaster response efforts, particularly in firefighting efforts. These rogue drone operations are a serious threat to emergency responders and rescue attempts. Including the perspective of the public employees who have experienced these dangerous encounters, will ensure that the task force can consider and help deal with these risks.

In an attempt to address the growing threat recreational drones pose to disaster response, I have introduced the Wildfire and Emergency Airspace Protection Act. My bill would make it a federal criminal offense to knowingly launch a drone for recreational purposes that interferes with fire or disaster response efforts, resulting in a fine and/or imprisonment for up to five years. This legislation would give law enforcement officials the deterrent mechanism they need to secure the air space from drone interference and provide greater safety assurance to the emergency responders who put their lives at risk on a daily basis.

Again, I applaud the FAA’s actions and encourage you to closely consider the impact of drones on disaster relief efforts and to seriously weigh the opinions of emergency responders throughout your process.

Sincerely,

Jeanne Shaheen

United States Senator